December 4th & 5th, 2016
Check off another bucket-lister: The Andean Rainbow Trout. My fly fishing adventure above 13K feet in the Andes Mountains outside Quito, Ecuador has to be one of the top ten most interesting, physically challenging and adventurous I have ever done. And those who know me, know that is a bold statement.
Through an internet search I found the Campuchoca Lodge and I now have a friend for life in its owner, Eduardo Campuzano. Eduardo is a super smart, 69 year old stud; almost retired civil engineer with a water resources specialty from Quito. And he is a genuinely great guy. And he has built quite a lodge and trout ecosystem for C&R fly fishing in the mountains above Quito. The Andean Trout is not native to Ecuador. It was brought in some 100+ years ago and thrived in the cold mountain rivers. Since there is no fish above 10k in South American rivers there is no significant environmental impact, if any, to having trout there. And thrive they have – these fish fight like hell; they are wild and they jump…a lot.
I have to tell you I had an absolute blast in the 2 full days I got to stay at Campuchoca. And it wasn’t all about the spectacular fly fishing. The food is awesome and the lodge is shockingly nice; certainly much nicer than my hotel in Quito. The late night discussions of politics, religion and sports with Eduardo were so fun. But, what is so fantastic about Campuchoca is the miles and miles of private wilderness and trout water. And the specular scenery of the Andes above 12 thousand feet.
Eduardo and I talked a number of times in email and Whatsapp before I arrived in Quito, Ecuador where he picked me up at the airport. With only 4 hours of sleep I was in a daze as we drove out of Quito up into the mountains where Campuchocha is located. Once on property it’s a series of rain torn dirt roads on Eduardo’s expansive property, going at least 10 square miles in my estimate. There are waterfalls in all directions. Eduardo’s biggest and most prolific problem is the poachers that sneak on to his property at night to bait fish, kill and sell the trout to local shops.
Some of my fly fishing was done in Cayambe-Coca National Park, only 30-40 or so miles outside of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Some of Eduardo’s property lies in the national park. Cayambe-Coca National Park is an Ecological Reserve / nature reserve in Ecuador located along the Equator. When the clouds clear, the world famous, snow-topped Cayambe volcano is within view.
After a great handmade breakfast at the lodge, my fishing day started out in the lower streams on his property. Eduardo warned me it would be a poor fishing day. He uses an app on his phone to predict the fishing success based on the solunar tables and the barometer, etc. Well, within 10 casts I hooked up 3 times and landed a nice trout. That is how Eduardo defines poor fishing: You don’t catch a trout on a dry every cast.
That first day, even though I was on 4 hours sleep and at 12.5K I was excited and doing well. But, man could I feel that altitude. As we hiked I was having trouble keeping up and getting my ass kicked by a 69-year-old. Eduardo knows his rivers and lakes. He told me where to throw it and how to fish in every spot. And he was always right. BTW, I did not fish with an indicator the entire time. Eduardo would have nothing to do with that. Most of the time I nymphed the traditional way without an indicator: on a dead drift in the current or little strips in the frog water. I need to do that a lot more often; if not always.
Lunch time was a tuna sandwich, coffee and water. There were a couple beers available, but I felt so horrible because of the altitude I just couldn’t do it. I know, I know…. So not like me.
We saw sporadic rises throughout that first day, but not enough for Eduardo to command the switch. But, at the end of the day the rises picked up and I picked up a few Andean Rainbows on the dry. What a great first day! We sundered back to the lodge at dusk to watch the hundreds of hummingbirds do their thing. And it got cold quickly at 12,500 feet.
Dinner at the lodge that night started with a light soup that you put popcorn into. I guess that is common in Ecuador. It hit the spot. After dinner Eduardo made a cocktail I now have to try at home. I have forgot the name and can’t find it on the internet, but it’s equal parts of fine Spanish Brandy and Absinthe. As you’d imagine there was a lot of “Trump talk” after that cocktail.
The Campuchoco lodge is really nice. The bed was awesome and it had electric blankets. Yes, two of them. And my god it was cold that night. just getting up to pee in the middle of the night sent my body into shivers.
On day two Eduardo and the young guides (that had showed up to take another couple from Melbourne fishing) told me it was going to be a lot tougher fishing. We were to fish higher locations and they said you have to work harder for hook ups up there. They were right. It’s not like I wasn’t catching fish, but I sure was working really hard for not a lot in the first part of the day. And unlike the first day we saw no rises at all. I wasn’t getting frustrated; the altitude was sucking the life out of me and I was getting my ass kicked by a 69 yr old again.
After another quick tuna sandwich lunch Eduardo made the call: “We are going up to the lakes.”. This was not part of the plan; we did this because the fishing was slow. I really didn’t know what I was in for at the time, but this was one of the adventures of the trip I will always remember. My guess is it took 45 minutes to climb another 1000 feet on the washed out / crazy ass dirt roads up to 13,500 feet where the lake was that eduardo was targeting. I learned later that Eduardo and his ~26 year old friend Daniel (“like a son to me.”) stocked that lake with rainbow trout fry they actually caught with fly rods on size 22 nymphs! Then, with an aerator and a cooler full of cold Andes Mountain water they transported the baby trout to the lakes…where they thrived.
Well the small lake was overgrown with chaparral and steep on all sides and the wind was blowing. I only had my 4wt (my “Tommy”; a custom made TFO BVK made for me by my buddy Tom Young in Colorado Springs) with a floating line with me; I really needed a 6 with an intermediate sink. And I was giving it all I had trying to double haul into the wind and casting over the wrong shoulder to avoid my weighted black wollly bugger from hitting me in the head. After 20 or 25 casts and strips back, which included 2 or 3 fouled casts stuck in the chaparral behind me, Eduardo said, “You need more weight to get down.”. I had become accustomed to Eduardo always being right, I just knew I had to make a change to pull it off. Prior in the day I had lengthened my leader with 5x to 10 feet so I knew I couldn’t add weight and still cast. Since I was just streamer fishing I decided to cut off that extra 7 feet and go with a stout 3 foot leader. That was a godsend for casting. And sure enough boom! I got struck hard by a big fish. I strip set on him and he jumped high. I knew I didn’t have to dainty him so I muscled him 10 yards or so with him jumping like crazy to a place on the lake I could land him. After the trophy shot, I said to Eduardo with a smile on my face, “We earned that one.” He shot back with a smile on his face, “I told you, you needed more weight.” I was really pleased.solely to make Eduardo pleased. I’ve caught a lot of big trout in my time, but some of them are special. That one was special.
We ended the day in some really small lakes right by the lodge I had not fished yet. I hooked and landed a few before the late afternoon rain set in (just like the rockies) and we retired to the lodge for an awesome dinner of wild deer killed and caught by Eduardo on his property. Yes, they have deer, cougars, bears, wild dogs, rabbits; everything but moose.
If you are a C&R trout fisherman and find yourself in the Quito, Ecuador area I strongly recommend the Campuchoco lodge. It’s only 45 minutes from the Quito Airport. Eduardo will take care of you. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org